Saying ‘no’ in a connecting way

On Friday, the new participants spent some time being shown the posters and worksheets that the group has been working through with Robert on the conflict resolution course. From posters illustrating the communication cycle, to reminders on the ingredients of empathy, the conference room is papered with valuable reminders on how to connect effectively with other people.

After the usual morning break, when the participants all sat together on the lawn in the sunshine, the group returned to the conference room to learn how to ‘say no in a connecting way’.

Robert started the session by explaining that saying ‘no’ can be an unpleasant experience for both speaker and listener. However, to say ‘yes’ all the time can lead to imbalance, with one’s time and energy leaching away to others. The solution? To learn to say ‘no’ while remaining connected to the person making the request.

The first step is to connect with the asker and show that you understand their needs. This is not as easy as it sounds. Simply declaring ‘Yes, I understand…’ is useless (especially when followed up with a ‘…but…’). Instead, Robert recommended starting with something like ‘I understand you need…….., is this correct?’.

Once this connection has been established and both parties are happy they understand the request and the needs by which it is motivated, the second step is for the request receiver to express the need which is preventing them from saying yes. ‘I’m feeling torn’, Robert said in a role play, ‘I want to say yes. However, I need to …. and this is preventing me from saying yes’. That need might be the need for rest, for quiet, or another obstacle to saying yes to the asker’s request.

The third step is to say a clear unambiguous ‘no’. This is an uncomfortable step, but is crucial to maintain clarity in the communication and leave no wiggle room, which may be far more uncomfortable.

The fourth step is to make some kind of connecting request of the asker. For example, an invitation to meet the asker’s need in some other way (a different time, a different resource) or a suggestion that next time the asker make their request sooner.

The participants then practised the technique among themselves, using real life requests to which they find difficult to say no. The questions that followed revealed this is a common area of difficulty, a sentiment shared by the Talk Together team!

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